University of North Carolina law professor Eric Muller says it was fear in the 1940’s grounded not just in Pearl Harbor, but also, “in the image that many Americans had of the Japanese as this race apart… organized around different values from what we’d prided ourselves on. A touch subhuman, maybe? We’ve seen a lot of that same kind of rhetoric now, accurately in some ways about ISIS… to all of the more than 1 billion+ Muslims on the face of the earth.” We don’t want to see on our streets the kind of things that have happened on the streets of Europe, says Muller.
Could the kind of internment camps we saw from 1942-44 with the Japanese happen again with Muslims now in the United States? It seems a far stretch, but, “we are disengaging our rational brains and our memory of history and going with what seems like the easy solution.” Muller, author of “Free to Die for Their Country: The Story of the Japanese American Draft Resisters in World War II,” notes that in December of 1944, the Supreme Court ruled that it was legal to relocate Japanese-Americans away from the west coast but said it was illegal to detain and incarcerate them.
On the sudden elevation of the issue of refugees to Topic A in America, Eric Muller says, “if we were really concerned about national security, we wouldn’t be focused on the handful of Syrian refugees, comparatively speaking, we’d be worried about the literally hundreds of thousands of people from Europe and other places as tourists and students who swarm to the U.S. without almost no investigation.” He reminds us that right now the legal process for refugee status involves months and months of redundant searching and is quite extensive.
Frightened in 1941 and frightened now, Muller reminds of some of the bad judgements of the day. “We’re listening…. well some of us, anyway, not me…. to a demagogue like Donald Trump, who will literally say anything to boost his poll numbers.”
Our conversation in full: